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Responding to acts of terrorism will in many ways be unlike any other type of emergency response you have ever experienced. While many of the procedures typically used in fire, EMS and hazardous materials responses will be used, new procedures designed especially for the potential dangers and challenges of terrorist incident scenes will need to be learned.
Every emergency response agency, including fire, EMS, hazmat, law enforcement and others, must have a minimum level of basic terrorist incident response training to ensure safety and survival of personnel. The intent of this training is much like awareness-level training for responding to a hazmat incident. Emergency responders must be able to recognize when a hazardous materials incident has occurred.
Photo by Robert Burke
Hazardous materials team members may require Level A protection when rescuing non-ambulatory victims.
Recognition is the most important aspect of initial hazmat response. Terrorism incident response is really another type of hazmat response with special circumstances. Therefore, recognition is also the most important aspect of initial response to terrorist incidents. However, all of the recognition and identification tools used for hazmat are not necessarily going to be useful during response to terrorist incidents. There will be no placards, labels, or other marking or identification systems to tell us what, if any, agents were used in an incident. Quantities will likely be small, so don't expect to see tanker trucks, railroad cars or large containers. There also may not be vapor clouds or other typical hazmat warning signs. Of course, terrorists will not be handing out Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the agents used before leaving the scene. There will be no shipping papers or driver/conductor to interview on the incident scene. So, other tools will be required to recognize when a terrorist incident may have occurred.
Responders need a thorough knowledge of the tools necessary for recognition of a terrorist incident. Otherwise, if response personnel are unable to recognize that a hazmat or terrorist incident has occurred, nothing else really matters at that point, because the incident response is already headed down the road to trouble or disaster.
Dispatchers and 911 operators should obtain as much information about potential hazmat and terrorist incidents as possible from the caller. They should be trained with some basic hazmat and terrorist response principles and procedures to help them better understand what information to seek from the caller. Checklists should be established for bomb and other threat incidents as well as hazardous materials and terrorist agents. Dispatchers and 911 operators will not receive these types of calls on a regular basis, and the checklists will help them remember what information to ask for. Dispatch and 911 centers as well as emergency operations centers should be provided with security.
Just as with hazardous materials, terrorist incident scenes should be approached from upwind and uphill, if possible. Terrorists may be watching your usual response procedures during the planning stage of a terrorist attack. If you believe a terrorist attack has occurred, you need to alter your usual response to foil any secondary device placement or other booby traps that may have been planted. Become unpredictable, don't do things like you always do if you suspect terrorism. Don't play into the plan of the terrorists. There is no hurry to get into the incident scene.